While 21 Savage and Metro Boomin have teamed up on numerous projects within the last four years, none of them is quite like Savage Mode II.
Since his rise to mainstream popularity in 2015, Savage has experienced a lot: losing close friends and family, becoming a Grammy-nominated artist and of course a puzzling immigration case with ICE that’s still open. With help from his righthand man and favorite producer, The Saint Laurent Don allows listeners to hear where he’s at in life and all the lessons he learned from the streets that carried into his rap career
With SM2 being one of the most anticipated but unexpected albums of the year, it’s timing is on par with the start of fall and Halloween season. Morgan Freeman —reminiscent of Vincent Price’s horrifying narration in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” — presents the project, creating a tone that lets fans know Savage and Metro aren’t here to play games.
The most impressive component of the project is the growth and quality of Metro’s sound combined with Savage’s ability to tell a story no matter what beat is put in front of him.
Songs like “Snitches & Rats” with cousin and longtime collaborator Young Nudy give fans the grimy sound of Atlanta’s Zone 6 and Paradise East Apartments that Savage blew up for. “RIP Luv,” however is almost the exact opposite. Savage holds a funeral service for his hopes of love and meaningful relationships over a slow and eerie beat. While his fans know there is a softer side to him, it’s one that he often closes off and doesn’t allow the world to see.
Though Americans are taking safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s doubtful that there will be any social distancing going on at clubs or functions when “Mr. Right Now” comes on. The Drake featured song is a synth-heavy hit more like what’s expected of Metro’s production. After all, Atlanta artists never cease to make music for the city’s upbeat party and club scene.
“RNS” with Young Thug brings a beautiful, harmonic vibe that’s perfect for kickbacks or those times you just want to slow things down with a good beat. “Steppin On N—s” makes listeners want to move like a West Coast gangster in the late ’80s. On “Brand New Draco,” Savage reminds us why he’s the called the Slaughter King while Metro assists him with a beat straight out of hell. The duo end on “Said N Done,” an angelic anthem that questions loyalty, respect and allegiance to the streets. It’s a refreshing and comforting resolution to an otherwise sinister album.
Savage Mode II is an album that comes with a certain mindset. It’s quite literally about destroying one’s competition by any means and staying solid through adversity. Because of its versatility, SM2 has at least one song any kind of rap fan can enjoy.
21 Savage and producer Metro Boomin are two Atlanta-based artists that have helped define the popular movement of southern trap music in the past decade. Savage Mode 2 is a follow-up to their landmark 2016 collaborative album Savage Mode, which served as a profile builder for both artists in the mainstream eye. Metro and 21 also clashed on Without Warning, along with Offset of Migos, which was a pivotal moment for 21’s evolution as an artist. Metro has iconicized the decadent, trippy, psychedelic trap sound that has both directly and indirectly shaped the styles of many of his contemporaries and fellow artists, such as Travis Scott and Future.
The conjunction of Metro’s ethereal beats and 21’s macabre raps was a match that worked in theory on the first Savage Mode, but wore out its welcome in practice. 21 still had a long way to go in terms of improving his lyrical and flow abilities to turn Metro’s nightmarish soundscapes into stellar songs. And with each subsequent album, 21 Savage did just that, while also developing a more distinct vocal style and intensifying the grisly details of his lyricism, adding humor into the mix as well. 21, especially on his last full-length I Am > I Was, projected himself as a charismatic character with a softer side, and emotions that ran beyond the shallow depictions of his violent upbringing.
There are some drier moments scattered in the middle of Savage Mode 2, namely on the collaborative track with Young Thug and “My Dawg,” where the skeletal beats and 21’s monotone delivery don’t coalesce into an exciting song. It does feel like the album repeats itself in certain moments, due to Metro’s tendency to use similar drum patterns and synth textures over the course of an entire album, evidenced on a track like “No Opp Left Behind,” which really could have been left behind.
On the majority of songs here, 21 brings a mixture of murderous bars and cunning one-liners that will have the listener laughing and squirming at the same time. Tracks like “Runnin”, “Glock in My Lap” and “Many Men” feature some of the best songwriting 21 has ever penned, with hooks sharper than a knife. “Snitches and Rats” is preceded by an interlude of Morgan Freeman distinguishing a snitch from a rat, which is pretty awesome. The song following this break in the album is also great, featuring a slick Young Nudy verse.
The album finishes strong, which is a telling attribute of a well-made project. “RIP Luv” incorporates a prominent, yet subtle sample of Nas’ “Take it in Blood,” which made it automatically enjoyable. The album ends on a melancholic note, tributing people in 21’s past who have passed away and also grilling the lifestyle that he has lionized so often in his raps before.
Even though this album strikes a different tone than 21’s last album, it presents a lot of the same characteristics that make his projects enjoyable. Metro Boomin does a pretty good job of diversifying his typical sound on Savage Mode 2, rivaling the way 21 Savage and his producers blended many influences on I Am > I Was. Savage Mode 2 contains some of 21’s best material to date, and reduces the filler to a minimum.